Perceiving Colorado’s Red-Rock Kissing Camels

February 14, 2024

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Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

High above visitors strolling, jogging and riding through Colorado’s Garden of the Gods is a window-like formation framed by arching red rock that resembles, to most observers, a pair of Kissing Camels. And that is exactly what people have come to call the amorous, even humped shapes at the top of this photograph, taken on October 7, 2023, in Colorado Springs.

The tendency, or ability, to perceive images of animals, human faces or other familiar forms in random, inanimate places or things is called pareidolia. Examples range from puppies and other creatures espied in puffy clouds to religious imagery on a piece of toast, or even the Man in the Moon. The term — coined in German during the 19th century, but more familiar in its English equivalent beginning in the 1960s — comes from the Greek words para, meaning beside or instead, and eídōlon, meaning image or shape, say dictionary etymologists at Merriam-Webster. The concept, though, was familiar to Renaissance artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, they note.

The Kissing Camels also can be described by a more recent term, as mimetoliths, a descriptive noun from the 1980s applied to nebulous faces and life-like shapes detected specifically in rock formations. These can range from New Hampshire’s now-disintegrated Old Man of the Mountain to the illusionary “Face on Mars,” or Cydonia. Mimetolith is derived from the Greek words mimeses (imitator) and lithos (stone), the web site HowStuffWorks explains.

The camelid formation is but one stage in the evolution of the impressive stones at the Garden of the Gods, a public park in Colorado Springs. The Kissing Camels nuzzle atop North Gateway Rock, a cliff-sided, vertically tilted fin of fine-grained sandstone of the Front Range’s Lyons Formation. In this image’s foreground, aptly named White Rock is also part of the Lyons Formation, despite its lack of reddish tints. Geologists say this pale layer likely consists of lithified sands from an ancient beach.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Coordinates: 38.87997, -104.88107

Related Links:

The Stone Face of the Uinta Mountains

Picture Sandstones of the Utah-Arizona Borderlands

Colorado’s Garden of the Gods